The Imaginative Claims of the Artist in Willa Cather’s Fiction: “Possession Granted by a Different Lease” by Demaree C. Peck (review)
- Western American Literature
- The Western Literature Association
- Volume 32, Number 2, Summer 1997
- p. 178
- View Citation
- Additional Information
178 Western American Literature white ambulance, into the wide-open back doors, gauges, timeless clocks, upside down bottles of clear fluid. Other fine fiction includes “Two Deserts,” by Valerie Matsumoto, and “News from the Volcano,” by Gladys Swan. In addition to good story-telling, Matsumoto’s harsh descriptions of desert life and Swan’s magical realism offer a refreshing departure from some of the more preachy pieces. Walking the Twilight II is an intriguing collection of women’s voices. However, Wilder assumes that it is enough to establish that each and every piece was written by a woman living somewhere in the Southwest. Surely there is more complexity here for an editor to unearth. LORRAINE ENGSTROM Santa Rosa, California The Imaginative Claims of the Artist in Willa Cather’s Fiction: “Possession Granted by a Different Lease”. By Demaree C. Peck. (Cranbury, New Jersey: Susquehanna University Press, 1996. 342 pages, $48.50.) In The Imaginative Claims of the Artist in Willa Cather’s Fiction, Demaree C. Peck argues that Cather’s work is part of an American tradition of romanticism, a tradition inspired particularly by Ralph Waldo Emerson. In Emerson, Peck writes, Cather found “the best model for her peculiarly American ideal of imaginative possession.”According to Peck, Cather’s characters struggle to “absorb” the world in which they live in order to “recreate an imperial self,” and when Cather writes about her characters, she is, in fact, writing about herself and her own psychic needs. Beginning with Alexander’s Bridge and ending with Sapphira and the Slave Girl, Peck groups eight of Cather’s novels into three distinct phases through which she traces Cather’s evolving notions of Emersonian possession. Peck describes the first phase as “celebratory,” and it includes characters, Alexandra Bergson for example, who recall Emerson’s poet landlord, thus reflecting Cather’s struggle “to assert her own authorial claim upon Nebraska.” The second, a “darker middle phase,” depicts characters such as Niel Herbert and Godfrey St. Peter, who confront, as Cather did, a world of crass mate rialism. The third is an “affirmative” phase that brings Cather back to a fundamental struggle between “a material possession and an imaginative appropriation of nature” as she recovered her imaginative territory in works like Death Comesfor the Archbishop. In her concluding chapter Peck extends her argument from Cather’s self-possession to her readers’need to possess Cather, citing numerous reviewers and critics who have used Cather’s literature to support their own themes. Like Cather, her readers seek to “escape” from the real world into a narcissistic quest for sovereignty, the kind of pos session known most fully in childhood and described in “The Treasure of Far Island.” In this story, published in 1902, Cather writes, “A child’s standard of value is so entirely his own... that it may be said thathis rights are granted by a different lease.” It is this notion of possession, in Peck’s view, that aligns Cather within an Emersonian tradition of American romanticism. ELIZABETH A. TURNER William Rainey Harper College ...